Intel has announced technologies that would increase transistor speed, power efficiency and heat reduction to enable chips to be developed containing more than one billion transistors - a 25% increase on today's chip densities. These transistors, dubbed Terahertz, would enable 2.63 trillion switches per second.
However, IBM has now disclosed similar plans and AMD is aiming to top both of them with speeds of 3.33 trillion switches per second.
The underlying technology is silicon on insulator (SOI), which Intel initially criticised when IBM started to use it in its high-end chip designs. Intel had said that IBM's implementation was inefficient but its recent announcements show that the problems, primarily the phenomenal heat dissipation, associated with high-density chips may soon be solved.
Unlike Intel, which has no prototype chip to show, IBM and AMD both claim to have sample chips but all three admit that commercial production of the 15-nanometer transistors will not happen before 2006.
The transistor is the key to digital operations because it acts as an on/off switch that denotes the ones and zeros of the binary mathematics that drives computers.